After threatening ban, Iran government flip-flops and plans to allow iPhone imports

According to local media reports, Iran is preparing to allow local retailers to import iPhones legally for the first time. Just last month, the country was threatening to ban the devices in what it was calling an anti-smuggling move. All that threat did in turn, however, was drive up the price of iPhones already in the country and actually increase smuggling.

The trade ministry in the country has gone to the Traded Promoting Organization and requested licenses for nine Iranian companies to import Apple’s smartphone. Apple currently doesn’t have a retail presence – or any other presence – in Iran, though unofficial Apple Stores are increasingly common.

Iran is preparing to allow local companies to import iPhones for the first time to try to curb the huge market in smuggled Apple products, state media reported Thursday. The trade ministry has requested licences from the country’s Trade Promotion Organisation for nine Iranian companies to import iPhones, according to the Tasnim news agency. Unofficial Apple stores are common in Tehran’s upmarket malls, and many of the country’s young and wealthy population carry the latest models of iPhone.

iPhones have long been smuggled into Iran and the government has largely ignored the problem, but over the past two months the attitude had changed. The government’s original plan was apparently to ban the import and use of iPhones and focus on registering phones that were legally in the country. With the legalization of importing iPhones, however, Iran will now be able to register all mobile phones for the first time.

When Iran’s plans to register all phones came to light last month, mobile operators, customers, and the union of mobile phone sellers were concerned as to how the data would be used. Those concerns appear to still be there, though, and the government has not yet commented.

Further complicating the issue, U.N. sanctions against Iran mean that U.S. companies have limited ability to sell their products in Iran. Apple last year, however, started discussions with Iranian distributors hoping to ease the sanctions as time passed.

Whether or not the decision to allow the importing of iPhones is a sign of easing regulations remain to be seen. Apple has not recently commented on its efforts in the country.

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